Rendezvous at Rose Tower
May 20th, 2010
The Centennial of Superhumans
The streets were quiet. There were few people out and about at this early morning hour and those that were hurried back to the safety of the indoors, observing an unspoken curfew. Even cops were keeping their heads low, only responding to emergency calls they considered priority cases. Light pollution kept the streets and buildings well lit, making the place feel like it’d been abandoned in a hurry.
Jet City’s core; Downtown, the International District and Frontier Village, were controlled by the police and the few sanctioned super teams the mayor was allowing to operate. Several riots had broken out in defiance of Mayor Cho’s rule. Looting was common. At least, it had been. Things were different now. Rumors spread that the leader of the Nationals himself, the Beacon, had organized this pseudo police state of affairs. The Mayor’s office wasn’t talking. JCPD and several Federal agencies worked in secret to capture the mass murderer known as Nobody. The National Guard was on standby but about to be deployed at any moment. They just needed someone to pull the trigger.
The affluent neighborhood of Tanglewood had been closed off by a great iron gate which was fittingly overdramatic. Evergreen’s local precinct had cordons of police checkpoints on every major avenue in and out. Autumn Lake had similarly circled their wagons. Historic Jetty and Riverview were ghost towns. Every other part of the city had fallen to the Spiders. Nowhere was truly safe anymore.
Eastman and his compatriots in the Order watched the state of affairs from afar, ready to use their media and government ties to bring a flurry of anti-Mask Law sentiment to the thinking classes of the rest of the country. On that front, the Serious Six’s flagrant misstep earlier that week had already given them plenty of fodder. Now they awaited the killing blow.
Surprisingly, the Crime Lords were staying silent, though the word on the street was that the more hot headed lieutenants were itching to start a fight. Those in the know wondered what exactly it was the big bosses were waiting for, or why they didn’t seem so worried about the Spiders’ takeover.
And then there was Nobody. The most wanted man in Jet City. Mass murderer and perpetrator of the worst terror attack in perhaps the city’s history. Or so everyone thought. Nobody knew the truth. So did James. Mallory and Tina hadn’t seen it, but they knew the narrative was bogus because they knew where it came from. That’s why the safe house had become necessary. It was located on the twenty second floor of an abandoned office building called Rose Tower. It’s central location near Jet City’s downtown had made it a handy base of operations.
A fence ringed the property, advertising a remodel. Coming Soon! The truth no one was willing to accept was that there was no remodel coming. No future buyers, investors or customers. For the current owners of Rose Tower, the fence was more than just an impediment to trespassers and squatters. It was a ward against reality. As long as those fliers showed what the property could be, it could continue to languish in its current state year after year behind that incantation. Coming Soon!
The windows were specially tinted so that one could see outside, but outsiders could not easily see in. It was supposed to keep the Sun out and regulate the office building’s temperature, but it was handy for staying out of sight as well. Elevators didn’t work and the stairways were locked up tight, so the only way to get to the safe house was up the elevator shaft by way of grapple hook. There were tables, chairs, tools and other leftovers from the construction crew that had abandoned this site. It had taken Nobody a whole summer to get the place set up and now all his hard work was paying off.
Nobody exited the elevator shaft, disconnecting his grappling line and closing the doors behind him in one practiced motion.
“It’s me,” he called out. James was at his makeshift workstation where he hadn’t moved since Nobody left.
“Yup,” James said, soldering something to something else.
“I hit the jackpot, buddy. Logistics, troop movements, it’s all right here.”
“Awesome. Oh hey, your friend’s here,” James distractedly relayed.
Mallory leaned against a table, dressed in a green sweater, a puffy brown vest, brand new boots and a cute wool cap that had been knitted to look like one of those vintage 1920’s hats. Like something out of the Great Gatsby. She also had a fancy looking camera hanging around her neck.
“Mal,” Nobody said.
“Hey,” she replied.
“What are you doing here?”
“Good to see you too,” she said.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Nobody said with a tired sigh.
“I’m just giving you a hard time,” she said with a half hearted smile.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Nobody said, setting his bag on the table.
“Her name’s Tina. And she’ll be okay.”
“Right right. Sorry. I’ve got a million things going through my brain right now. Tomorrow’s the big day and there’s still so much to do.”
“You mean today.”
“The Centennial’s today,” said Mallory.
“No it’s…” The first rays of daylight began to break through the clouds hanging over the Cascades. Nobody checked his watch. “Oh. I didn’t realize the time,” he said, rubbing his tired eyes.
“You two haven’t been getting any sleep, have you?” Mallory asked.
“You can’t exactly blame us. I’m a wanted man,” Nobody said, digging through his bag.
“You know, Evan isn’t a criminal wanted by the city. He can still go outside and live his life,” Mallory said.
“There is no Evan right now,” he said, pulling a stack of documents out of his bag. “And after today, I won’t be cooped up in here anymore. One way or another.” He went to stick the documents on the intel table only to realize a smattering of glossy photos was already spread out over it. Photos of back alleys and walls from around the city.
“Where’d this come from?” Nobody and Mallory asked at the same time.
“Jinx,” James said from his workstation.
“You go first,” Nobody said.
“I… oh. Okay. Here,” Mallory said, gathering some of the photos.
“Did you do these yourself?” Nobody asked, perusing the envelope’s contents.
“Sure did,” said Mallory.
“What am I looking at?”
“They’re gang tags and graffiti art from across the city. They look pretty normal at first glance but take a closer look,” said Mallory.
“These are all…”
“Mystic symbols, yes,” Mallory interjected.
“I was going to say weird looking, but we’ll go with that,” said Nobody.
“Look. These right here,” she said, grabbing a bunch of photos. “These are Old World runes. Or, maybe they’re sigils. It’s hard to tell with some of these.”
“So this is what you’ve been doing all week,” Nobody said.
“Yeah. I’ve been skulking through all kinds of alleys, back alleys, overpasses and sanitation tunnels to find these.”
“Skulking,” James muttered, amused.
“Sanitation tunnels. You mean sewers?” Nobody asked.
“Sanitation tunnels,” she reiterated.
“Heh. The Incredible Skulk,” James said, still soldering.
“Is he okay?” Mallory asked.
“He’s… pretty focused right now,” said Nobody.
“Anyway, these tags are all coded in the symbolic language of protection, warding, and safe haven. These over here are symbols of conquest, murder and chaos.”
Nobody shook his head. A street gang doing pseudo-magical street art. Another mystery in a web of mysteries.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It’s all a jumble right now. It’ll take me time to sort it out but I figured it was worth giving you a heads up,” said Mallory.
“See if you can figure out their movements and plans with these,” said Nobody.
“You’re just gonna conscript me? Just like that?”
“Isn’t that why you’re here?” Nobody asked.
“You never asked.”
“Oh. Why are you here?”
“I wanted to check on you guys. Especially since you never checked up on me, I got worried that maybe the feds had gotten to you.”
“I did check up on you. You just didn’t see me,” said Nobody.
“I wasn’t spying on you! I wanted to make sure you were okay but I wasn’t ready to… talk to you yet.”
“You still blame yourself for what happened,” Mallory said.
“I don’t know why you don’t.”
“Are you forgetting that I’m the reason all of us were even there to begin with? If anyone should feel guilty it’s me.”
“But there’s no time to think about any of that so cut the crap and let me help you,” said Mallory.
“We need the help,” James said, furiously typing away on his computer.
“See? James agrees and what the hell are those?” Mallory asked, pointing to the documents in Nobody’s hand.
“Are those classified documents?” Mallory said.
“I don’t know,” said Nobody.
“That one has Top Secret written on it.”
“Oh. Then I guess yeah.”
“Where did you get these?”
“A Spider base on 23rd and Gold,” Nobody said with a yawn. He felt dizzy. His exhaustion was catching up to him quick.
“Why do the Spiders have Top Secret documents? And for what?” Mallory asked, reaching for the bag.
“Let’s focus on one thing at a time here,” Nobody said.
“Stopping the Spiders is the only thing we should be focused on,” Mallory insisted.
“Okay why are you really here?” Nobody snapped. Mallory frowned. “You said you wanted to check on us. You did. Go home where it’s safe.”
“No. You’re not keeping me out of this. The Spiders practically own all of Jet City. Whatever they have planned for the Centennial will be the final nail in the coffin and even Tanglewood won’t be safe.”
“Doesn’t your dad have, like, a bunch of other homes?” Nobody asked.
“I don’t want to live in Spain or France or Rome! I want to live here!” Mallory yelled. She took a breath and clenched her fists, willing her feelings to simmer down. “I want to be a superhero here. In this city. Protecting the people I care about. Not running away to Europe and going to fashion galas or whatever it is they make celebrity kids do over there. I want to be here making a difference. How can I call myself a hero and let the Spiders get away with this?”
“You don’t want to be a debutante? You got the look down,” Nobody said, closing one eye and framing her with his fingers.
“First off, that’s the best compliment you’ve ever given me,” Mallory said, adjusting her cap. “Second of all, that life’s not for me. All my brothers are doing important things in the super community. Bruno is a super doctor, Dio does neuroscience research for an international non-profit and Rodrigo designs super uniforms and costumes. I’m the only one who gets pressured to dress up for the cameras and be the “face of the Castilles” for pointless charities and navel gazing fundraisers. I don’t want to be a freaking spokesperson for my dad’s cult of personality. I want to be a superhero. I want to kick ass and take names. I want to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. I want to know where that awful smell is coming from. Good God that reeks!”
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it,” said Nobody. Mallory narrowed it down to a wooden crate on James’ workstation. There were wires and cords coming out of it, snaking around the workstation until they ended at the computer James was typing away on.
“It’s that box. James, what’s in there?”
“Huh? Oh, just computer stuff,” James said, distractedly.
“It smells like burnt hair and motor oil,” Mallory said, looking the crate over.
“She sure does,” James replied.
There was a space between the planks of the crate one of the wires was sticking out of. Mallory took a closer look. A wrinkled eye opened and peered at her from within.
Mallory fainted. Nobody was close by and ready to catch her.
“Oh whoops. I should have warned her,” said James.
“She handled it better than you did,” Nobody said.